Sources materials in Rajatarangini
While writing the first three books (chapters) of Rajatarangini, Kalhana made full use of tradition whether written or oral, and the chronicles which were based on such traditions. In writing down these traditions, at times, Kalhana can be seen in the light of a critic. For instance, he mentions three traditions of the death of the king Lalitaditya, without stating what is true, and comments, "When the great meet their end there arise stories indicative of their uncommon grandeur". King Meghavahan's exploits have been described in such a far-fetched manner, that Kalhana himself is fearful that they might not be accepted as true but he tries to justify them by comparing them with the cruelties of Harsha, which, in their town, might not be believed, but for them these were eyewitnesses.
For the last two chapters of his book, the main sources were his contemporaries, his father, fellow-countrymen and his own memory. Thus many incidents of the treachery of Bhiksachara's troops, he emphatically writes, were witnessed by him. It is no surprise that much of the history of the previous two generations, he got from his father and father's friends who held key-posts in the politics of their times.
Composition of Rajatarangini
The Rajatarangini consists of eight books (Chapters) of unequal size, written in Sanskrit language in nearly 8,000 verses of rare literary merit. The text may roughly be divided into three sections:
1. Books 1 to 3, which are based on traditions.
2. Books 4 to 6, dealing with Karakota and Utpala dynasties. Here, he has made extensive use of the works of earlier chroniclers who were contemporaries or near contemporaries of the events they described.
3. Books 7 and 8, dealing with the two Lohara dynasties. In these he made use of personal knowledge and eye-witness accounts, the latter often perhaps received at second or third hand.
The Sanskrit style of Rajatarangini is similar to that of the accepted style of the Pundits of Brahmin descent. The introduction to each book of his chronicle is begun by prayers to Lord Shiva in his form of Ardhnarishwar representing the God in union with Parvati.
Style of Writing of Rajatarangini
The style of writing of the Rajatarangini is not crude or difficult. Kalhana's idea was that even a historical text must be a work of art and has tried to make his work attractive to readers. There are scattered verses adorned in ornate language or donned in fantastic imagery, of country Sanskrit. His accounts are graphic and vivid except in his last two books, where so many characters are brought into the scene without proper introduction. Kalhana who had strictly maintained the chronology right from the start of the book, did not follow it to the letter in the second and third sections. Evidently he was writing his book for those, who were familiar with the events of the period.
The instructive feature of Rajatarangini may be traced to the selection of Sana Rasa i.e. sentiment of resignation. Here Kalhana's has taken it as a motive to show that material prosperity and royal possessions are objects of transitory glory. The evil acts of man will turn around and get him some time or the other as this is destiny. In the same way, acts of policy, statecraft and individual conduct are again and again praised and analysed in the light of Dharma or Nitishastra.
Content of Rajatarangini
Rajatarangini is a sage showing the force of Karma. Whatever good or bad a man does in this life, according to Kalhana, reaps the harvest for that in the life to come. Often the force of Karma shapes events and provides the basic moral sanction. Fate, according to Kalhana, is the second force influencing the human destiny. Fate is sometimes used as a synonym for God. God or the Gods often influence human affairs. Sometimes adverse fate is overcome by those who trust in their arms. Here also Rajatarangini gives another hopeful message to his countrymen that whatever fate the creator might have in store for them, only a strong king confident of his powers could save Kashmir. Rajatarangini interlinks the Karma of the Kings with that of his subjects. Good Kings arise through the merits of their subject. A king and his subjects could mould the orders of nature.
Rajatarangini appears to wage a war in favour of benevolent despotism and strongly disapproves of feudalism. Believing in orthodox Rajniti (state-craft), he had his own conception of good government. Explicitly or implicitly Rajatarangini carries the idea that a strong king is the ideal king, who has firm control over unruly elements, but is benevolent towards his people and sympathetic to their wishes. He chooses his ministers with discretion, and listens to their counsels with respect. Kalhana has shown his steady disapproval of the demurs, the petty feudal chiefs, who were the cause of anarchy and confusion in Kashmir since the death of Harsha. Another motive, perhaps, in writing Rajatarangini was to inspire the kings of Kashmir with their ancient glory and prowess, and to curb the unruly elements, who aimed at making the king weak. At times Kalhana becomes pessimistic. The words put in the mouth of Harsha symbolises it- "This-land, after having been a virtuous woman, has fallen like a prostitute into the arms of the insolent. Henceforth, whoever knows how to succeed by mere intrigue will aspire to that Kingdom whose power has gone." Here the historian shows his prophetic vision. He is no more simply a poet or a scholar.
Shortcomings of Rajatarangini
This great work has also some shortcomings. The sources used by him, were not critically analysed and discussed. His narrative becomes more legendary in the middle of the ninth century, when one seems to reach contemporary records. There are a number of fantastic and often unbelievable stories which have been described by him as being historical truths. Naturally his credibility is questioned when such exaggerations are portrayed as the truth. Similarly, Kalhana's chronology is also not based on scientific data. Of course, one cannot expect critical judgment in matters of chronology from an author who has started dating history from a legendary date of the coronation of Yudhisthar from the epics, and attributes three hundred years to a single ruler, Ranadilya. Kalhana could not and should not be blamed for this, as it was a general trend among the Indians. Rajatarangini also presents a contrast within itself. Its earlier part is a mass of fiction, and later part, that is early medieval part, is real history. It vividly describes the falling glory of Kashmir- the palace intrigues, murders, rebellious civil wars and treachery.
Kalhana, in writing Rajatarangini, set a tradition for history writing. His book, after him, was continued by four successive historians from the point where he left, to some years after Kashmir's annexation by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. The task of a historian, according to Kalhana, is to make clear the pictures of a bygone era. Kalhana was aware that his work would not only achieve permanency, but would enliven all the actors as well as himself. He had another object also in view. He says "This saga, which is properly made up, should be useful for kings as a stimulant or a sedative, like a physic, according to time and place". Kalhana expected that both good and bad Kings would benefit from his work. He is a thus strong supporter of historical impartiality. The Rajatarangini is thus a work of great importance. It is the history of kings, royal families and nobility, justifying the title "River of the Kings".